Solar panel plant considered for Mountain IronMountain Iron could become home to Minnesota’s second manufacturer of photovoltaic solar panels. The $6.85 million project would create 15 or more full-time jobs paying at least $13 per hour plus benefits when it begins operations next year.
By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
Mountain Iron could become home to Minnesota’s second manufacturer of photovoltaic solar panels. The $6.85 million project would create 15 or more full-time jobs paying at least $13 per hour plus benefits when it begins operations next year.
The Iron Range Resources Board will consider making $5.1 million in loans Thursday to help bring the manufacturer, Silicon Energy, to town:
$1.5 million to Silicon Energy for equipment and $3.6 million to the Economic Development Authority of Mountain Iron to construct a 25,000-square-foot building in the Mountain Iron Renewable Energy Park. The plant would be the park’s first tenant.
“We’re excited about this development,” EDA spokesman Gary Cerkvenik said. “The city and EDA have a long-range plan to recruit businesses in the renewable energy field. We are pretty happy we have an American manufacturer with American workers producing an American product for the American marketplace.”
Silicon Energy MN is a new company owned by Newport Partners, a California-based firm that focuses on developing, financing and managing properties with tax credits. It helped secure tax credits for the Laurentian Energy project in Hibbing and Virginia, and is involved in the Embarrass Mountain Wind project.
Earlier this year Newport bought Silicon Energy, which manufactures solar PV panels in Arlington, Wash. The Mountain Iron facility will be similar to that facility, and Silicon Energy President Gary Shaver will be responsible for getting the Mountain Iron plant operating.
If financing is secured Thursday, Silicon Energy will begin construction this summer and begin operating next year, Cerkvenik said. The plant is expected to have 15 full-time employees when it opens, with the potential for additional jobs as production lines are added and crews are hired and trained to install the solar panels.
Photovoltaic solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity. But they are expensive, and it can take years for homeowners to recoup purchase and installation costs through energy savings.
To make solar panels more attractive, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, and Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, sponsored legislation this year making $21 million in rebates available to residential and small business projects that purchase solar panels in Minnesota. Currently only one firm — tenKsolar of Bloomington — makes solar panel components in Minnesota.
“We’re creating jobs in Minnesota; we’re creating renewable energy in Minnesota,” said Tomassoni, who is the IRR Board chairman. “I think it is a pretty neat project.”
The board’s technical advisory committee voted June 9 to recommend approval of the project. If the board approves the loans, Iron Range Resources will hold a first-position on about $2.5 million in equipment for the $1 million equipment loan. The agency will hold a first mortgage on the building for the $3.6 million loan.